08:22
TED2012

Al Vernacchio: Sex needs a new metaphor. Here's one ...

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For some reason, says educator Al Vernacchio, the metaphors for talking about sex in the US all come from baseball -- scoring, getting to first base, etc. The problem is, this frames sex as a competition, with a winner and a loser. Instead, he suggests a new metaphor, one that's more about shared pleasure, discussion and agreement, fulfillment and enjoyment. Let's talk about … pizza.

- Sexuality educator
In his 12th-grade Sexuality and Society class, Al Vernacchio speaks honestly and positively about human sexuality. Full bio

I'd like to talk to you today
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about a whole new way to think about sexual activity
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and sexuality education, by comparison.
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If you talk to someone today in America
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about sexual activity,
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you'll find pretty soon you're not just talking
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about sexual activity.
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You're also talking about baseball.
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Because baseball is the dominant cultural metaphor
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that Americans use to think about
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and talk about sexual activity,
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and we know that because there's
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all this language in English
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that seems to be talking about baseball
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but that's really talking about sexual activity.
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So, for example, you can be a pitcher or a catcher,
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and that corresponds to whether you
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perform a sexual act or receive a sexual act.
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Of course, there are the bases,
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which refer to specific sexual activities
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that happen in a very specific order,
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ultimately resulting in scoring a run
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or hitting a home run,
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which is usually having vaginal intercourse
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to the point of orgasm,
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at least for the guy.
01:20
(Laughter)
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You can strike out, which means
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you don't get to have any sexual activity.
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And if you're a benchwarmer,
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you might be a virgin or somebody who for
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whatever reason isn't in the game,
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maybe because of your age or because of your ability
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or because of your skillset.
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A bat's a penis,
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and a nappy dugout is a vulva, or a vagina.
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A glove or a catcher's mitt is a condom.
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A switch-hitter is a bisexual person,
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and we gay and lesbian folks play for the other team.
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And then there's this one:
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"if there's grass on the field, play ball."
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And that usually refers to
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if a young person, specifically often a young woman,
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is old enough to have pubic hair,
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she's old enough to have sex with.
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This baseball model is incredibly problematic.
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It's sexist. It's heterosexist.
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It's competitive. It's goal-directed.
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And it can't result in healthy sexuality
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developing in young people or in adults.
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So we need a new model.
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I'm here today to offer you that new model.
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And it's based on
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pizza.
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Now pizza is something that is universally understood
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and that most people associate with a positive experience.
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So let's do this.
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Let's take baseball and pizza and compare it
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when talking about three aspects of sexual activity:
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the trigger for sexual activity,
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what happens during sexual activity,
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and the expected outcome of sexual activity.
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So when do you play baseball?
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You play baseball when it's baseball season
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and when there's a game on the schedule.
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It's not exactly your choice.
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So if it's prom night or a wedding night
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or at a party or if our parents aren't home,
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hey, it's just batter up.
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Can you imagine saying to your coach,
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"Uh, I'm not really feeling it today,
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I think I'll sit this game out."
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That's just not the way it happens.
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And when you get together to play baseball,
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immediately you're with two opposing teams,
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one playing offense, one playing defense,
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somebody's trying to move deeper into the field.
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That's usually a sign to the boy.
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Somebody's trying to defend people moving into the field.
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That's often given to the girl.
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It's competitive.
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We're not playing with each other.
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We're playing against each other.
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And when you show up to play baseball,
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nobody needs to talk about what we're going to do
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or how this baseball game might be good for us.
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Everybody knows the rules.
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You just take your position and play the game.
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But when do you have pizza?
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Well, you have pizza when you're hungry for pizza.
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It starts with an internal sense, an internal desire, or a need.
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"Huh. I could go for some pizza."
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(Laughter)
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And because it's an internal desire,
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we actually have some sense of control over that.
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I could decide that I'm hungry
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but know that it's not a great time to eat.
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And then when we get together with someone for pizza,
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we're not competing with them,
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we're looking for an experience
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that both of us will share
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that's satisfying for both of us,
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and when you get together for pizza with somebody,
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what's the first thing you do?
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You talk about it.
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You talk about what you want.
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You talk about what you like.
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You may even negotiate it.
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"How do you feel about pepperoni?" (Laughter)
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"Not so much, I'm kind of a mushroom guy myself."
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"Well, maybe we can go half and half."
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And even if you've had pizza with somebody
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for a very long time,
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don't you still say things like,
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"Should we get the usual?"
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(Laughter)
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"Or maybe something a little more adventurous?"
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Okay, so when you're playing baseball,
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so if we talk about during sexual activity,
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when you're playing baseball,
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you're just supposed to round the bases
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in the proper order one at a time.
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You can't hit the ball and run to right field.
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That doesn't work.
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And you also can't get to second base and say,
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"I like it here. I'm going to stay here."
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No.
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And also, of course, with baseball, there's, like,
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the specific equipment and a specific skill set.
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Not everybody can play baseball. It's pretty exclusive.
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Okay, but what about pizza?
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When we're trying to figure out what's good for pizza,
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isn't it all about what's our pleasure?
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There are a million different kinds of pizza.
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There's a million different toppings.
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There's a million different ways to eat pizza.
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And none of them are wrong. They're different.
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And in this case, difference is good,
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because that's going to increase the chance
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that we're having a satisfying experience.
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And lastly, what's the expected outcome of baseball?
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Well, in baseball, you play to win.
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You score as many runs as you can.
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There's always a winner in baseball,
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and that means there's always a loser in baseball.
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But what about pizza?
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Well, in pizza, we're not really --
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there's no winning. How do you win pizza?
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You don't. But you do look for,
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"Are we satisfied?"
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And sometimes that can be different amounts
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over different times or with different people
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or on different days.
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And we get to decide when we feel satisfied.
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If we're still hungry, we might have some more.
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If you eat too much, though,
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you just feel gross.
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(Laughter)
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So what if we could take this pizza model
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and overlay it on top of sexuality education?
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A lot of sexuality education that happens today
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is so influenced by the baseball model,
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and it sets up education that can't help
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but produce unhealthy sexuality in young people.
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And those young people become older people.
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But if we could create sexuality education
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that was more like pizza,
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we could create education that invites people
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to think about their own desires,
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to make deliberate decisions about what they want,
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to talk about it with their partners,
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and to ultimately look for
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not some external outcome
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but for what feels satisfying,
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and we get to decide that.
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You may have noticed
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in the baseball and pizza comparison,
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under the baseball, it's all commands.
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They're all exclamation points.
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But under the pizza model, they're questions.
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And who gets to answer those questions?
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You do. I do.
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So remember, when we're thinking about
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sexuality education and sexual activity,
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baseball, you're out.
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Pizza is the way to think about healthy,
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satisfying sexual activity,
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and good, comprehensive sexuality education.
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Thank you very much for your time.
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(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Al Vernacchio - Sexuality educator
In his 12th-grade Sexuality and Society class, Al Vernacchio speaks honestly and positively about human sexuality.

Why you should listen

Al Vernacchio teaches at Friends’ Central, a private Quaker school just outside Philadelphia. His positive, enthusiastic and often humorous approach to comprehensive sexuality education (rather than abstinence-only education) has made “Mr. V.” a popular speaker -- and has recently brought him to the attention of the New York Times Magazine, which profiled his class in the November 20, 2011, cover story "Teaching Good Sex". When not talking about sexuality, Vernacchio teaches English and is the faculty moderator of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance. He's also a seasoned wedding officiant.

More profile about the speaker
Al Vernacchio | Speaker | TED.com